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Niche syndromes reveal climate-driven extinction threat to island endemic conifers


Anthropogenic climate change is predicted to cause many extinctions worldwide1. Although species endemic to islands or archipelagos have high conservation value and are vulnerable to human impacts2,3, there has been no global analysis of climate-driven extinction risk focused on island endemics. Here, we use conifers as a model system to assess extinction risk among island endemics under climate projections for 2070. We employ the emerging technique of combining native and non-native occurrence data to model climatic conditions under which each species can sustain a population4,5,6,7 and also incorporate horticultural data to model the broader range of conditions that allow short-term survival. Our projections indicate that some species will retain suitable climatic conditions, some will experience conditions completely precluding survival and others will experience intermediate-risk conditions that lead to population decline and eventual extinction. Based on different climate change models, we report island size thresholds of 400 to 20,000 km2, below which extinction risks increase. These patterns are driven by correlations among island area and the breadth of species’ realized, fundamental and tolerance niches. Notably, realized and fundamental niche breadth are positively correlated. Our results highlight management interventions needed to protect species from climate-driven extinction across islands of different sizes.

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Fig. 1: Occurrence data and niche models for three exemplar species.
Fig. 2: Island size and climate change severity determine the proportion of species remaining within their fundamental niches, as well as management needed to avoid climate-driven extinction.
Fig. 3: Correlations among island area, species’ realized and fundamental niche breadth and total available climate space.

Data availability

Some herbaria and consortia we queried for species occurrence data do not allow dissemination of their data beyond the user, so we are unable to publish the portion of our dataset derived from these online sources. However, these data are publicly available for download, so we provide information on where to access data from each herbarium and consortium in the references. For full details on herbarium consortia, including lists of individual participating herbaria whose data we used, see Supplementary Note 2. We also provide in the Supplementary Data a version of our species occurrence dataset that contains only the data derived from personal communication and our primary literature search. CHELSA climate data are publicly available at and at the Dryad Digital Repository at


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This manuscript benefitted from financial support from the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society. Species occurrence data were provided by L. Celesti-Grapow, R. de Lima, L. Henderson, G. Firsov, A. Khmarik, S. Peccenini, R. Wagensommer, J. Baard, D. Luscombe, B. Chaves, G. Dyer and P. Normandy. Many botanists and horticulturalists provided helpful replies to our requests for additional information regarding non-native species occurrences in our dataset.

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Authors and Affiliations



K.C.R. and D.F.S. designed the study and wrote the manuscript. K.C.R. collected the data and performed the analyses. D.L.P. helped design the data collection approach, contributed to some analyses, assisted in interpretation and contributed to writing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Kyle C. Rosenblad.

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Peer review information: Nature Climate Change thanks Carsten Külheim and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Figs. 1–5, Tables 1–2, methods and Supplementary Notes 1 and 2.

Reporting Summary

Supplementary Data 1

Species occurrence data derived from personal communication and our primary literature search.

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Rosenblad, K.C., Perret, D.L. & Sax, D.F. Niche syndromes reveal climate-driven extinction threat to island endemic conifers. Nat. Clim. Chang. 9, 627–631 (2019).

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